Michael III

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Michael III
Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans
Michael iii.jpg
Michael III
Emperor of the Byzantine Empire
Predecessor Theophilos
Successor Basil I
Co-regency Empress Theodora
BornJanuary 19, 840
DiedSeptember 23/24, 867 (aged 27)
Consort Eudokia Ingerina
Full name
Michael III
Dynasty Amorian Dynasty
Father Theophilos
Mother Theodora

Michael III (Greek : Μιχαήλ Γʹ, Mikhaēl III; January 19, 840 – September 23/24, 867) was Byzantine Emperor from 842 to 867. Michael III was the third and traditionally last member of the Amorian (or Phrygian) dynasty. He was given the disparaging epithet the Drunkard (ὁ Μέθυσος) by the hostile historians of the succeeding Macedonian dynasty, but modern historical research has rehabilitated his reputation to some extent, demonstrating the vital role his reign played in the resurgence of Byzantine power in the 9th century. [1] [2]

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Macedonian dynasty dynasty

The Macedonian dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire from 867 to 1056, following the Amorian dynasty. During this period, the Byzantine state reached its greatest expanse since the Muslim conquests, and the Macedonian Renaissance in letters and arts began. The dynasty was named after its founder, Basil I the Macedonian who came from the Theme of Macedonia which at the time was part of Thrace.



Early life and regency

This coin struck during the regency of Theodora shows how Michael was less prominent than his mother, who is represented as ruler alone on the obverse, and even less than his sister Thecla, who is depicted together with the young Michael on the reverse of this coin. Solidus-Michael III-sb1686.jpg
This coin struck during the regency of Theodora shows how Michael was less prominent than his mother, who is represented as ruler alone on the obverse, and even less than his sister Thecla, who is depicted together with the young Michael on the reverse of this coin.

Michael was the youngest child of the emperor Theophilos and his empress Theodora. Already crowned co-ruler by his father in his infancy in 840, Michael had just turned two years old when his father died and Michael succeeded him as sole emperor on January 20, 842.

Theophilos (emperor) Byzantine emperor

Theophilos was the Byzantine Emperor from 829 until his death in 842. He was the second emperor of the Amorian dynasty and the last emperor to support iconoclasm. Theophilos personally led the armies in his lifelong war against the Arabs, beginning in 831.

Theodora (wife of Theophilos) Byzantine empress

Theodora was a Byzantine empress as the spouse of the Byzantine emperor Theophilos, and regent of her son, Michael III, from Theophilos' death in 842 to 855. For her restoration of the veneration of icons, which ended the Byzantine Iconoclasm, she is venerated as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church; her Feast Day is February 11. Several churches hold her as their patron saint.

During his minority, the empire was governed by a regency headed by his mother Theodora, her uncle Sergios, and the minister Theoktistos. The empress had iconodule sympathies and deposed Patriarch John VII of Constantinople, replacing him with the iconodule Patriarch Methodius I of Constantinople in 843. This put an end to the second spell of iconoclasm. [3]

In law, a minor is a person under a certain age, usually the age of majority, which legally demarcates childhood from adulthood. The age of majority depends upon jurisdiction and application, but it is generally 18. Minor may also be used in contexts that are unconnected to the overall age of majority. For example, the drinking age in the United States is usually 21, and younger people are sometimes called minors in the context of alcohol law, even if they are at least 18. The term underage often refers to those under the age of majority, but it may also refer to persons under a certain age limit, such as the drinking age, smoking age, age of consent, marriageable age, driving age, voting age, etc. Such age limits are often different from the age of majority.

Theoktistos Byzantine regent

Theoktistos was a leading Byzantine official during the second quarter of the 9th century and the de facto head of the regency for the underage Michael III from 842 until his dismissal and murder in 855. A eunuch, he assisted in the ascent of Michael II to the throne in 822, and was rewarded with the titles of patrikios and later magistros. He held the high posts of chartoularios tou kanikleiou and logothetēs tou dromou under Michael and his son Theophilos. After Theophilos' death in 842, Theoktistos became member of the regency council, but soon managed to sideline the other members and establish himself as the virtual ruler of the Empire. Noted for his administrative and political competence, Theoktistos played a major role in ending the Byzantine Iconoclasm, and fostered the ongoing renaissance in education within the Empire. He also continued the persecution of the Paulicians, but had mixed success in the wars against the Arabs. When Michael III came of age in 855, his uncle Bardas persuaded him to throw off the tutelage of Theoktistos and his mother, the Empress Theodora, and on 20 November 855, Theoktistos was assassinated by Bardas and his followers.

Iconoclasm The destruction of religious images

Iconoclasm is the social belief in the importance of the destruction of icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons. People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, a term that has come to be figuratively applied to any individual who challenges "cherished beliefs or venerated institutions on the grounds that they are erroneous or pernicious".

As the emperor was growing up, the courtiers around him fought for influence. Increasingly fond of his uncle Bardas, Michael invested him with the title kaisar (Caesar – at the time a title second only to emperor) and allowed him to murder Theoktistos in November 855. With the support of Bardas and another uncle, a successful general named Petronas, Michael III overthrew the regency on March 15, 856 and relegated his mother and sisters to a monastery in 857. [4]

Bardas was a Byzantine noble and high-ranking minister. As the brother of Empress Theodora, he rose to high office under Theophilos. Although sidelined after Theophilos's death by Theodora and Theoktistos, in 855 he engineered Theoktistos's murder and became the de facto regent for his nephew, Michael III. Rising to the rank of Caesar, he was the effective ruler of the Byzantine Empire for ten years, a period which saw military success, renewed diplomatic and missionary activity, and an intellectual revival that heralded the Macedonian Renaissance. He was assassinated in 866 at the instigation of Michael III's new favourite, Basil the Macedonian, who a year later would usurp the throne for himself and install his own dynasty on the Byzantine throne.

Caesar (title) cognomen, later an imperial title of Roman empire

Caesar is a title of imperial character. It derives from the cognomen of Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator. The change from being a familial name to a title adopted by the Roman Emperors can be dated to about CE 68/69, the so-called "Year of the Four Emperors".

Petronas was a notable Byzantine general and leading aristocrat during the mid-9th century. Petronas was a brother of Empress Theodora and hence brother-in-law of Emperor Theophilos, under whom he advanced to the rank of patrikios and the post of droungarios of the Vigla regiment. After Theophilos' death, he played a role in the ending of Iconoclasm, but was sidelined along with his brother Bardas during the minority of his nephew, Michael III, when power was held by the regent Theoktistos. In 855, Petronas and Bardas encouraged Michael III to seize control of the government: Theoktistos was murdered, Theodora banished to a monastery, Bardas became Michael's chief minister, and Petronas was tasked with the war against the Arabs. In 863, he scored a crushing victory at the Battle of Lalakaon, a feat which marked the gradual beginning of a Byzantine counter-offensive in the East. Promoted to magistros and domestikos ton scholon, he died in 865.


Coronation of Basil the Macedonian as co-emperor (right) Coronation of Basil the Macedonian as co-emperor.png
Coronation of Basil the Macedonian as co-emperor (right)

The internal stabilization of the state was not entirely matched along the frontiers. Byzantine forces were defeated by the Abbasids in Pamphylia, Crete, and on the border with Syria, but a Byzantine fleet of 85 ships did score a victory over the Arabs in 853. There were also many operations around the Aegean and off the Syrian coast by at least three more fleets, numbering 300 ships total. Following an expedition led by Michael's uncle and general, Petronas, against the Paulicians from the eastern frontier and the Arab borderlands in 856, the imperial government resettled them in Thrace, thus cutting them off from their coreligionists and populating another border region. [5] Michael was also responsible, as per the writings of Constantine VII, for the subjugation of the Slavs settled in the Peloponnese. [6]


Pamphylia was a former region in the south of Asia Minor, between Lycia and Cilicia, extending from the Mediterranean to Mount Taurus. It was bounded on the north by Pisidia and was therefore a country of small extent, having a coast-line of only about 120 km with a breadth of about 50 km. Under the Roman administration the term Pamphylia was extended so as to include Pisidia and the whole tract up to the frontiers of Phrygia and Lycaonia, and in this wider sense it is employed by Ptolemy.

Crete The largest and most populous of the Greek islands

Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica. It bounds the southern border of the Aegean sea. Crete lies approximately 160 km (99 mi) south of the Greek mainland. It has an area of 8,336 km2 (3,219 sq mi) and a coastline of 1,046 km (650 mi).

Syria Country in Western Asia

Syria, officially the Syrian Arab Republic, is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon to the southwest, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest. A country of fertile plains, high mountains, and deserts, Syria is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Syrian Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Circassians, Mandeans and Turkemens. Religious groups include Sunnis, Christians, Alawites, Druze, Isma'ilis, Mandeans, Shiites, Salafis, Yazidis, and Jews. Sunnis make up the largest religious group in Syria.

A conflict between the Byzantines and Bulgarian Empire occurred during 855 and 856. The Byzantine Empire wanted to regain its control over some areas of Thrace, including Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and the ports around the Gulf of Burgas on the Black Sea. Byzantine forces, led by the emperor and the caesar Bardas, were successful in reconquering a number of cities – Philippopolis, Develtus, Anchialus and Mesembria among them – as well as the region of Zagora. [7] [8] At the time of this campaign the Bulgarians were distracted by a war with the Franks under Louis the German and the Croatians. In 853 Boris had allied himself to Rastislav of Moravia against the Franks. The Bulgarians were heavily defeated by the Franks, following this the Moravians changed sides and the Bulgarians then faced threats from Moravia. [9]

Bulgarian Empire Medieval empire in South-Eastern Europe

In the medieval history of Europe, Bulgaria's status as the Bulgarian Empire, wherein it acted as a key regional power occurred in two distinct periods: between the seventh and eleventh centuries, and again between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. The two "Bulgarian Empires" are not treated as separate entities, but rather as one state restored after a period of Byzantine rule over its territory. Bulgaria is one of the few historic states and nations whose economy and society were never based on slavery, and slavery never played an important role in Bulgarian statehood development and wealth.

Plovdiv City in Bulgaria

Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia, with a city population of 346,893 as of 2018 and 675,000 in the greater metropolitan area. Plovdiv is the culture capital of Bulgaria. It is an important economic, transport, cultural, and educational center. There is evidence of habitation in Plovdiv dating back to the 6th millennium BCE, when the first Neolithic settlements were established. It has been considered to be one of the oldest cities in the world.

Zagore ; also Zagorie (Загорие), Zagora (Загора), Zagoriya (Загория)) was a vaguely defined medieval region in what is now Bulgaria. Its name is of Slavic origin and means "beyond [i.e. south of] the [Balkan] mountains". The region was first mentioned as Ζαγόρια in Greek when it was ceded to the First Bulgarian Empire by the Byzantine Empire during the rule of Tervel of Bulgaria in the very beginning of the 8th century. From the context, Zagore can be defined as a region in northeastern Thrace.

Michael III took an active part in the wars against the Abbasids and their vassals on the eastern frontier from 856 to 863, and particularly in 857 when he sent an army of 50,000 men against Emir Umar al-Aqta of Melitene. In 859, he personally led a siege on Samosata, but in 860 had to abandon the expedition to repel an attack by the Rus' on Constantinople. In 863, Petronas defeated and killed the emir of Melitene at the battle of Lalakaon, and celebrated a triumph in the capital. [10]

The ascendency of Bardas and the Christianisation of Bulgaria

Bardas justified his usurpation of the regency by introducing various internal reforms. Under the influence of both Bardas and Photios, Michael presided over the reconstruction of ruined cities and structures, the reopening of closed monasteries, and the reorganization of the imperial university at the Maganaura palace under Leo the Mathematician. [11] Photios, originally a layman, had entered holy orders and was promoted to the position of patriarch on the dismissal of the troublesome Ignatios in 858. [12] This created a schism within the Church and, although a Council of Constantinople in 861 confirmed Photios as patriarch, Ignatios appealed to Pope Nicholas I, who declared Photios illegitimate in 863. Michael presided over a synod in 867 in which Photios and the three other eastern patriarchs excommunicated Pope Nicholas and condemned the Latin filioque clause concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. [13] The conflict over the patriarchal throne and supreme authority within the church was exacerbated by the success of the active missionary efforts launched by Photios.

The baptism of Boris I of Bulgaria 57-manasses-chronicle.jpg
The baptism of Boris I of Bulgaria

Under the guidance of Patriarch Photios, Michael sponsored the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodios to the Khazar Khagan in an effort to stop the expansion of Judaism among the Khazars. Although this mission was a failure, their next mission in 863 secured the conversion of Great Moravia and devised the Glagolitic alphabet for writing in Slavonic thus allowing Slavic-speaking peoples to approach conversion to Orthodox Christianity through their own rather than an alien tongue. [14]

Fearing the potential conversion of Boris I of Bulgaria to Christianity under Frankish influence, Michael III and the Caesar Bardas invaded Bulgaria, imposing the conversion of Boris according to the Byzantine rite as part of the peace settlement in 864. Michael III stood as sponsor, by proxy, for Boris at his baptism. Boris took the additional name of Michael at the ceremony. The Byzantines also allowed the Bulgarians to reclaim the contested border region of Zagora. [15] The conversion of the Bulgarians has been evaluated as one of the greatest cultural and political achievements of the Byzantine Empire. [16]

The rise of Basil the Macedonian and the assassination of Michael

The assassination of Bardas the Caesar at the feet of Michael III MadridSkylitzesAssassinationBardasFol80ra.jpg
The assassination of Bardas the Caesar at the feet of Michael III

Michael III's marriage with Eudokia Dekapolitissa was childless, but the emperor did not want to risk a scandal by attempting to marry his mistress Eudokia Ingerina, daughter of the Varangian (Norse) imperial guard Inger. The solution he chose was to have Ingerina marry his favorite courtier and chamberlain Basil the Macedonian. While Michael carried on his relationship with Ingerina, Basil was kept satisfied with the emperor's sister Thekla, whom her brother retrieved from a monastery. Basil gained increasing influence over Michael, and in April 866 he convinced the emperor that the Caesar Bardas was conspiring against him and was duly allowed to murder Bardas. Now without serious rivals, Basil was crowned co-emperor on 26 May 866 and was adopted by the much younger Michael III. This curious development may have been intended to legitimize the eventual succession to the throne of Eudokia Ingerina's son Leo, who was widely believed to be Michael's son. Michael celebrated the birth of Leo with public chariot races, a sport he enthusiastically patronized and participated in. [17]

Leo VI presiding over the transfer of the remains of Michael III to the imperial mausoleum at the Church of the Holy Apostles The relics of Michael III are transferred to the Holy Apostles.jpg
Leo VI presiding over the transfer of the remains of Michael III to the imperial mausoleum at the Church of the Holy Apostles

If ensuring Leo's legitimacy had been Michael's plan, it backfired. Ostensibly troubled by the favour Michael was beginning to show to another courtier, named Basiliskianos, whom he threatened to raise as another co-emperor, Basil had Michael assassinated as he lay insensible in his bedchamber following a drinking bout in September 867. Basil with a number of his male relatives, plus other accomplices, entered Michael's apartment; the locks had been tampered with and no guard had been placed. Michael's end was grisly; a man named John of Chaldia killed him, cutting off both the emperor's hands with a sword before finishing him off with a thrust to the heart. Basil, as the sole remaining emperor (Basiliskianos had presumably been disposed of at the same time as Michael), automatically succeeded as the ruling basileus. [18]

Michael's remains were buried in the Philippikos Monastery at Chrysopolis on the Asian shore of the Bosphoros. When Leo VI became ruling emperor in 886, one of his first acts was to have Michael's body exhumed and reburied, with great ceremony, in the imperial mausoleum in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. [19]


Amorian or Phrygian dynasty
Michael II 820829
with Theophilos as co-emperor, 822829
Theophilos 829842
with Constantine (c. 833835) and Michael III (840842) as co-emperors
Michael III 842867
under Theodora and Theoktistos as regents, 842855, and with Basil I the Macedonian as co-emperor 866867
Preceded by
Leo V and the Nikephorian dynasty
Followed by
Macedonian dynasty

The reign and personality of Michael III are difficult to evaluate because of the hostile accounts written by Byzantine authors operating under Basil I and his successors. Byzantine accounts describe Michael's habitual drunkenness, his obsession with chariot racing and his orchestration of public displays mocking the processions and rituals of the church. The impression gained from Arab sources, however, is one of Michael as an active and often successful military commander. [20]

Though Michael III was allegedly prone to squander money, his reign stabilized the economy, and by the year 850 the empire's annual revenues had increased to 3,300,000 nomismata . The definitive end to iconoclasm early in his reign led, unsurprisingly, to a renaissance in visual arts. The Empire made considerable advances in internal organisation and religious cohesion, and it had more than held its own against the Abbasid Caliphate. Most importantly Bulgaria had been transformed into a religious and cultural satellite of Byzantium. Much of the credit for these achievements, however, must go to Theodora and Theoktistos up to 855, and Bardas and Petronas thereafter. [21]


Michael III had no children by his wife Eudokia Dekapolitissa but was conjectured to have fathered one or two sons by his mistress Eudokia Ingerina, who was married to Basil I: [22]

See also


  1. Gregory, p. 231
  2. Fossier, p. 315
  3. Treadgold, p. 447
  4. Treadgold, p. 450
  5. Treadgold, pp. 450–451
  6. Arhweiler and Laiou, pp. 7–8
  7. Gjuzelev, p. 130
  8. "TITLE needed", Bulgarian Historical Review, v.33:no.1-4, p.9.
  9. Fine, p. 112
  10. Treadgold, p. 452
  11. Tougher, p. 69.
  12. On the 19th of December 858 Photios was a layman, on the 20th he was tonsured and over the next four days was ordained lector, sub-deacon, deacon and priest; on the 25th of December he was consecrated Patriarch of Constantinople. Photios was a kinsman of both Bardas and Michael III. See Tougher, p 69.
  13. Fossier, p. 325
  14. Treadgold, p.452
  15. Fine, pp. 118–119
  16. Gregory, p. 240
  17. Treadgold, p, 453
  18. Finlay, pp. 180–181.
  19. Tougher, p. 62.
  20. Gregory, p. 231
  21. Treadgold, p.455
  22. Treadgold, p. 462

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Michael III
Born: 19 January 840 Died: 23/24 September 867
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Byzantine Emperor
Succeeded by
Basil I